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edinburgh crest for webUniversity of Edinburgh School of Physics

Research in the School of Physics University of Edinburgh, and the PPARC Astronomy Technology Centre.


Physics in Edinburgh covers a huge range from subatomic particles to the entire Universe. It also includes all of mathematical theory, experiment and observation, application to chemical and biological systems, innovative techniques in computing, and, with our colleagues at the ATC, construction of new ground and space-based instrumentation. Research covers several physical sites at the Kings Buildings, at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, and at the National e-Science Centre in the middle of Edinburgh. The names listed below are key contacts amongst permanent acadmic staff; many more researchers are involved.

Extreme Conditions Physics & the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions (CSEC)

Under conditions of high pressure, temperature and magnetic field,  materials can be transformed to entirely new forms -  gases into magnetic solids, molecular solids into polymers and insulators into superconducting metals. We use laboratory techniques together with theoretical and computational studies, to study topics as diverse as complex high-density phases in elements that are unlike anything seen at ambient pressure; molten elements; ice and water; solid hydrogen; and hydrate phases in Saturn's moon, Titan. A major goal is to create wholly novel materials.

Soft Condensed Matter and Biological Physics Experiment

The physics underlying the behaviour of many soft materials, including putty, mayonnaise, hair gel and blood is poorly understood yet is central to both everyday and high-tech applications (drug delivery, liquid crystal displays, sensors).  Edinburgh research in Soft Condensed Matter focusses on structural arrest, phase kinetics, the relation between microstructure and flow, and the interface with biology. We make extensive use of light scattering, advanced microscopies and micromanipulation (in COSMIC), and work closely with in-house theory and simulation.

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Statistical Mechanics and Computational Materials Physics

CREATOR: XV Version 3.10a  Rev: 12/29/94 (PNG patch 1.2)  Quality = 75, Smoothing = 0We use a combination of model building, rigorous analysis, and computation to study the statistical mechanics of non-Hamiltonian or non-equilibrium systems. These include (a) systems undergoing driving, e.g. colloids undergoing shear, and (b) systems of 'agents' or 'autonomes' who respond to their environment in a non-Hamiltonian manner (such as flocks of birds, or traders in a market: see our NANIA project), and (c) systems that are unable to find their equilibrium state because of the very complicated energy landscape in which they move, such as glasses.  We also study fluid mixtures, grain boundaries and embrittlement in solids; adsorption into nanoporous materials such as zeolites, and the behaviour of solids at high pressure (see CSEC).

Photonics/Biophotonics Imaging, Spectroscopy and Manipulation

Research is concentrated in the Collaborative Optical Spectroscopy, Micromanipulation and Imaging Centre (COSMIC) - a cross-disciplinary centre combining imaging, time-resolved spectroscopy, and laser trapping for advanced characterization and control of materials. The Centre is used by physicists, chemists, biologists and medics to study the properties of complex fluids and biological systems from single molecules to single cells.

  (Picture : A single strand of fluorescently-labelled DNA, attached to a 1 micron polystyrene bead, which is held by laser tweezers)

Nuclear Physics

Software: Microsoft OfficeOur work has two main strands. One is nuclear astrophysics, measuring the properties and reactions of unstable nuclei needed to understand explosive processes such as novae, and supernovae, as well as the origin  of the elements. The other is the structure of hadrons,  assemblies of quarks and gluons, including an involvement in the recent discovery of the pentaquark. (Picture : artists impression of nova system)


Experimental Particle Physics

Current activities include the study of matter-antimatter asymmetries with experiments at CERN and SLAC, the development of photon detector technologies for Ring Imaging Cherenkov Detectors, and data management and networking tools for e-Science applications. In the future we will participate in an international linear collider facility.



Theoretical Particle Physics

Our interests span lattice quantum chromodynamics, collider phenomenology within and beyond the Standard Model and particle physics applications to cosmology. We build and exploit some of the most powerful computers in the world to simulate the strong interactions between quarks and gluons, which form the bound states of hadrons, for comparison with experimental measurements. We also carry out complex analytical calculations using perturbation theory to obtain predictions for high energy scattering and decay processes in both the Standard Model and possible extensions to it, such as supersymmetric models. Immediate targets are the missing Higgs boson of the Standard Model (Peter Higgs is Emeritus Professor in the School) and supersymmetric particles. The existence of these particles could explain several puzzles about why the Universe is the way it is and they will all be searched for at the upcoming Large Hadron Collider facility at CERN. Finally we are interested in particle physics model building and nonequilibrium quantum field theory in application to early universe and inflationary cosmology.


Picture :  Christine Davies (Glasgow) and Richard Kenway (Edinburgh) with the UK's new QCDOC computer which is the fastest in the world for calculations of the strong interactions between quarks and gluons.

Cosmology and Quasars

At the Institute for Astronomy we aim to understand the overall contents of the universe, and how structure develops within it. This involves parallel work in theory and observation, combining ambitious new surveys and large computer simulations. Topics under study include statistics of galaxy clustering, gravitational lensing, microwave background polarisation, the formation of galaxies and massive black holes early in the history of the Universe.  (Picture : Virgo project supercomputer simulation of large scale structure)

Stars, Star Formation and Astrobiology

Star formation is a central problem in astrophysics, connected upwards to the construction of galaxies, and downwards to the formation of proto-stellar systems, planets and ultimately life itself. We have concentrated on studying this phenomenon in the infrared and submillimetre bands, to see through the associated dust. Theoretical modelling of the results is an active area, with an emphasis on protoplanetary systems. (Picture : dust disk around star imaged with the SCUBA submm camera built at the ATC)

Astronomy and Space Technology

Astronomical advances are driven by new technology - bigger telescopes, new wavelength regimes, sharper images, etc, all leading to new discoveries. The PPARC Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) designs and builds new telescope systems and instruments for observatories and spacecraft all over the world, specialising in IR and submm technologies. (Picture : fish-eye view of new Infra-Red Wide Field Camera mounted on the UKIRT telescope in Hawaii).

High Performance Computing and e-Science

The EPCC is one Europe's premier High Performance Computing centres, but it grew out of the needs of Computational Physics, and is still closely attached today, building QCDOC, the world leading computer for particle physics calculations. The tradition of innovation in e-Science and the Grid (distributed computing over the internet) continues through the National e-Science Centre, with key drivers in the flood of data from CERN and large astronomical surveys. (Picture : the Edinburgh headquarters of the National e-Science Centre, an activity shared between Edinburgh and Glasgow).